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“Mom, I’m done with gymnastics.”

What would you do if your daughter or son said they were quitting gymnastics? Would you push them to stay? Would you let them go? Read Leonora Anton’s story published on Tampa Bay Times for a real life example of what a parent goes through.

Before my daughter was truly Lauren, she was a gymnast.

She was 7 when she joined her buddy Elizabeth for a tumbling class at Tampa Bay Turners. She had nice clean lines and a kind of rubber band flexibility, so they moved her into their competitive program quickly. I still have her first leotard. It’s a purple velvet number speckled with silver flecks. It would fit an American Girl doll.

At her first meet, one of her toughest skills was a tiny leap on the beam. Watching her compete was like a roller coaster ride. Would she stay on the beam? Swing around the parallel bars just right? More often than not, she did.

Her competitions — as she progressed through gymnastic’s levels — became family affairs with aunts, cousins, grandparents in attendance.

When she was 11, she earned first place all-around for her level in the state, all ages. It was an incredible moment, and I started believing that maybe she was good enough to get a college scholarship.

Then the injuries started. She fractured the growth plate in one wrist, then the other. Later, there was an ankle fracture. After that, the fear crept in. The skills were getting harder, and the back handspring on the beam gave her anxiety. Her palms often had giant blisters from the bars. I asked her often if she still wanted to do gymnastics. She always said yes.

This past year, she entered high school. Her gymnastics schedule had grown to five days a week, more than 20 hours, and it seemed like all she ever did was work out and do her homework. She often stayed up late trying to get it done, and I worried about her injuring herself while trying to learn the difficult Level 9 skills.

We were driving home after a vacation in Virginia a few weeks ago when she told me: “Mom, I’m done with gymnastics.” Just like that. After almost eight years — about half her life — she was ready to trade in her leotard for a life outside the gym. She said the sport wasn’t as much fun anymore. She was tired of being afraid.

I’d met several parents over the years who told their daughters to buck up and keep going. I knew others who wished their daughters would quit but weren’t sure how to broach the subject.

My first comment surprised me. I told Lauren I was proud of her for making such a huge decision on her own. And I truly was.

She wanted to stop immediately. I asked her to go back one last time, to make sure.

On the day of her final practice, I realized a little late in the day that this might be the last time I’d ever see her perform. I raced to get out of work. When I got to Tampa Bay Turners, I peered through the giant picture window at the sea of girls — the bouncy tykes tiptoeing down the fat beam, the muscled high schoolers with their knee braces and their ankle tape doing back tucks on the skinny beam. Then I spotted Lauren in a corner doing her end-of-workout run.

I’d missed it. I would never see her do a double back handspring on the beam again.

I looked around. The waiting room was as it had been for as long as I could remember. A mom I’d known for three years was talking to a dad I’d known for six. The newbie moms were parked with their laptops and their iPads and their art projects at the table in the front, one eye glued to their pony-tailed progeny through the window. There was a large picture of my daughter taped to the door of the gym, a shot of her at the apex of her “giant” on the bars, tall and perfectly straight, the moment of one of her last gymnastics achievements, a 9.750 at a meet in Louisiana in March.

I realized we were leaving this tiny microcosm — her fellow gymnasts, their parents, her coaches, her future in gymnastics — and now the tears were slipping down my cheeks.

It was like that for the next three days. It was like a death.

My daughter, on the other hand, felt relief. She was sad to leave a place that had been such a big part of her life. But she didn’t have to worry about the fear anymore or the stress of juggling gymnastics and schoolwork. She couldn’t understand why I was crying.

Had I not wanted her to quit? she asked me.

No, it was the right decision, I replied. I just needed time to grieve.

I thought of all the money I’d invested in her sport, hundreds of dollars a month, the trips to competitions in Cancun and New York City. We could have probably paid off a year at a fancy out-of-state college. I thought about all the time she’d spent trying to get her full twist on the floor, her flipping tsuk on the vault, her double back handspring on the beam. How many hours — no, days — had she spent trying to master just one of those skills? What could she have done instead with all that time?

It took me a few days to realize that the huge investment of time had made her who she was now. She’d had to be organized to get her homework done. She was meticulous, focused and strong. Gymnastics had done that.

She’d learned to take risks. She’d learned to fight fear. She’d learned perseverance in the face of disappointment. She’d learned to succeed at one of the toughest sports on earth. She’d learned to give it up on her terms.

Grief turned to relief. No more worry about the sport’s impact on her body. All that cash back in my bank account. We could actually take family vacations. But I thought about her identity. More than half her life had been spent as a gymnast. I wondered, would she feel lost without her sport?

Two weeks later, I watched Lauren put on the green and black Speedo of St. Petersburg High School’s swim team. I held my breath as she stepped onto the diving board.

All eyes were on my daughter as she flew into a front somersault full twist, then cut through the water in the deep end. Her classmates — her teammates — cheered. Now she was competing for her school. She smiled as she pulled herself out of the pool.

My daughter, the athlete.

By |August 28th, 2019|Business News|11 Comments

About the Author:

mm
After studying graphic design at the University of Georgia, Jill held several positions in media and marketing including Art Director, Editor and Marketing Director. As a student of dance, she has spent plenty of time in children’s activity centers and puts that experience to work for her in the work she does with Jackrabbit. In addition to her interest in dance, Jill also enjoys sports, gourmet cooking, entertaining, singing and spoiling her five grandchildren.

11 Comments

  1. Jennifer C Douglas November 12, 2018 at 6:22 PM - Reply

    I am in tears right now reading this because we’re contemplating on taking our newly turned 9 yr old out. It doesn’t seem like her passion and actually, it doesn’t seem like she cares. She’s really just there because of the social time with friends. This past comp season was her 2nd year competing level 3 and we don’t see her moving up to level 4 because if her back handspring. We moved from a different gym where she didn’t even qualify for state the first time around. This year she placed 8th AA. She’s just mediocre and I think too it’s because of the lack of wanting to do better (She’s been doing gym since 3 yrs old). Her back handspring is a nightmare and inconsistent due to fear and lack of confidence. We feel like we’re spending so much money (a low income family) with very very little progression. But it hurts so much to call it quits. Soooo, anyway those were my thoughts as I read this. Lol Just hurt. 🙁

  2. Shauna March 26, 2019 at 12:46 AM - Reply

    I could have written this, it was surreal reading it. My daughter was same age, same level, had just gone to Easterns, and was done when high school started. I was sad, happy, worried, relieved. She took everything she learned and made academics her new blood sport. I miss watching her, but I know she is right where she should be now.

  3. Tina April 15, 2019 at 12:29 AM - Reply

    Thank you for your text. My daughter decided to quit gymnastics two weeks ago. And it’s so true; it’s like dying for me while it’s a relief for her. She thought long time about it before telling me. So it hits me like a bus while she’s already moving forward. All these feelings you’re writing I know them now. But I also looking forward to the new life outside the micro cosmos of gymnastics

  4. Danielle Hinkle April 17, 2019 at 6:30 PM - Reply

    I have been in your shoes. Last August my 16 year old Elite gymnast told me she was done after 12 years! I had a feeling it was coming since we were nursing her 3rd concussion, going to PT 3 times a week, massage 2 times a week and icing two ankles and a knee nightly. I, too had the three day grief period. What was I to do with all the time now? Driving her 6 days a week an hour round trip twice a day was alot of time. We went to 30 states, Canada, England…phew. The most important part was she turned into a much happier version of herself. She began Strongman and Ironman competitons. At 16 she is poised to be nationally ranked against 28 year old women! We were at a big named gym that sent MANY girls to Olympics abd 100s to colleges on full rides. Spent ALOT just on competition leos alone. The 12 years did indeed make her who she is and will continue to form who she will be. She is much more mature than other kids her age and has respect for everyone…traits formal gymnastics gives them. They were good years and i occasionally wish to see her triple on floor or her full-in just once more live and in person, but I love the happier version of my daughter even more than that!

  5. Colette Rodger April 26, 2019 at 1:02 PM - Reply

    I have tears in my eyes as my daughter is going in this direction and I feel for you. But, the silver lining that you helped me realize – if and when that day comes- I can view it as shaping her as who she is at that moment.
    I also feel like it has taken over our life, but she is happy and wants to keep going. Level 3 but training to move into level 4 and already doing level 5 stuff. I’m clueless in all the names of everything and would rather stay that way. I don’t want to be that mother that forces her to continue. But at the same time, it is all an investment.
    I don’t know what the future holds but thank you for writing this and helping me see your side in a new light.
    As parents, we do our best – is it enough or too much?
    God bless…

  6. Mom2the9rh May 9, 2019 at 7:23 PM - Reply

    Reading this was like someone jumped into my head and my heart. My daughter started gymnastics at 3. She is 12 and will be saying good bye. We live almost and from the gym and it’s been our lives for nine years. Cheerleading and track are what brings her joy along with representing her school.
    I feel like I’m leaving family behind. The relationships you build. Are amazing and the experience will be cherished.

  7. Tarolyn Thrasher June 4, 2019 at 10:04 PM - Reply

    I’m reading and I’m thinking ugh I need an answer my daughter is 7 and is entering into level 3. She expressed that she wants to try cheerleading and she doesn’t want to spend 12 hours a week doing Gymnastics. She good but I don’t want to discourage my daughter from trying different sports. Her coach wasn’t supportive which made it hard for me and my daughter. This whole process is too much for a 7 year old

  8. Newly Retired Gym mom July 24, 2019 at 12:27 PM - Reply

    News so fresh for us. We are on our 3rd week of my daughter gym retirement. Yes, she had to quit her long great running career. It wasn’t a total surprise since she started bringing it up a year ago. We talked and she was open to give it one more year. Summer came with hard upgrades for level 7. Out of the blue, with tears in her eyes….”Mom, I can’t do gym anymore.” I can see it in her painful face, it is over for her. Gym is not fun anymore. 13 years old and real fear settling in.
    Balancing school and gym getting harder. That announcement hurt so deeply. It’s like you are losing a big piece in your life. Then I realize all I think is how it affects me. How bad I felt. Once we agreed for her to quit, her face lit up with relief. All the burden in the world is lifted. Trust me it will still hurt us parents a while. All these facebook memories we bragged about our kids are not helping either. But I have to think back to that sign of relief in her face. This is about her. I am sharing this to give other moms hope. One door closes, always another door open. We are on our 3rd week. We start to enjoy little things together again like walking the dog or go jogging. She is not too tired any more to do those things. She ventured out to other interest she never has time for like art and sewing. We tried to encourage physical activities, diving, track and dance is NOT an option LOL. She finally discovered she enjoyed Aerial Art which is a perfect cross over for gymnast. In conclusion, for all soon-to-be retiring gym moms, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Let your kid guide you and take their time. Things will be ok.

  9. Erin September 1, 2019 at 6:04 AM - Reply

    Hello all! I am 36 and as a former gymnast in my youth I look back and wish I had never done it! I do understand the love for a sport and I really enjoyed it and then the worst injury happened and I ended up with 4 spinal surgeries. Not only were these so very painful and emotionally taxing, I still have back problems and cannot work. I moved back home for the latest spinal surgery and it’s very hard to not be able to have done the things I always thought I would have by this time. Like getting married and having babies. If your child wants out it might be hard for a parent but get them out before they have an injury that changes their life! You all are great parents for listening to your children and letting them discover new sports and interests. Have a happy Sunday y’all. Just wanted to leave a little different perspective 😊

  10. Mel September 28, 2019 at 8:22 PM - Reply

    This may as well be our story. My daughter was the same, two time provincial champ, more accolades that we had shelf space for. The years of travel and sacrifices. However my daughter had a head coach that hated her and held her back at every turn. Refused to let her try out for the higher teams though she out paced everyone around her. One meet saw her roll her ankle so badly it turned out to be her last meet because the head coach used it to kick her off the team. I bawled when I realized not only was she not allowed to go out on her own terms but also we’d never get to see her skills again. She is now a coach and is a great motivator and mentor. Thanks for the story!!

  11. Beth McGrath October 2, 2019 at 12:21 AM - Reply

    It’s so hard to see your child love a sport, you love their sport, make team friends, and parent friends and then have them make a huge decision to leave that sport. I saw my son play football for 8 yrs, then quit due to a concussion . Like many of you I cried for 3 days. I now know it was the best decision of his life so far. My daughter who has been in gymnastics for 11 years, just had spinal fusion surgery for severe scoliosis wants to go back to gymnastics. I have mixed emotions. Some selfish and some realistic. Reading others replies makes me feel not alone, but happy to know we move on and realize our kids know their bodies the best and want to be healthy and happy. Whatever my daughter decides, it will be hard on me, but I’d be proud of her like you all were that they made that big decision on their own. They put themselves first!

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